San Francisco’s Polk Street protected bike lane. Photo by Nick Falbo, Alta Planning.
At this point most bicyclists are in agreement that protected bike lanes are a desirable addition to any street design. Studies have consistently shown that most people feel safer riding in lanes which are barrier-protected from automobile traffic, and many people who don’t currently ride would be more inclined to ride if there was more safe, designated cycling infrastructure available.
But what about the people in the cars?
While much of the media surrounding motorists’ views on bike lanes tends to highlight the animosity between the two modes, and the “war on cars” dynamic that views all motorists as road-hogging and bike-hating, the reality is that many motorists are happy to share the road with people on bikes, and they would prefer to do it safely.
A recent survey examined the reported roadway comfort of 265 non-bicycling drivers, bicycling drivers, and non-driving bicyclists in the San Francisco Bay Area in order to determine their preferences and opinions on various forms of bike infrastructure. While most regular bicyclists unsurprisingly reported the greatest comfort when protected from cars and discomfort in shared space, the majority of motorists also reported feeling greater comfort with more separation.
When it comes to paint-only bicycle lanes, they were still rated highly among motorists who believe they led to increased bicyclist predictability and reminded motorists to expect bicyclists, but were rated as less comfortable by the bicyclists themselves. It was roads with barrier-protected bike lanes which were rated as most popular by the overwhelming majority of respondents, regardless of how frequently or infrequently they cycled.
While this study is obviously limited in its sample size, its findings are nonetheless a welcome addition to the debate around protected bicycle lanes, which tends to portray them as a benefit to cyclists and a bane of the existence of everyone else. The survey results stand as a reminder that, at the end of the day, most people driving cars decidedly do not want to kill anybody else with their cars, and are happy to accept whatever infrastructure is available to lessen that possibility.
In a climate of debate which remains stubbornly divisive, this study, aptly named “We can all get along: The alignment of driver and bicyclist roadway design preferences in the San Francisco Bay Area” is a breath of fresh air.
Now if only we can get a survey entitled “Cars are too heavy: The nation’s parking spaces would prefer to be bike lanes instead,” then maybe we’d be getting somewhere!
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